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The Boys of My Youth

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  2,710 ratings  ·  348 reviews
Rarely does the debut of a new writer garner such attention & acclaim. The excitement began the moment "The Fourth State of Matter," one of the fourteen extraordinary personal narratives in this book, appeared in the pages of The New Yorker. It increased when the author received a prestigious Whiting Foundation Award in November 1997, & it continued as the hardcove ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 29th 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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Everyone loves this book. No one writes bad reviews of this book. The Boys of My Youth is Jo Ann Beard’s only book to date. Everyone is right. The book is amazing, but I am going to tell you what I did not like about the book.

Beard’s descriptions of childhood are just too well done. While reading them, memories of your own childhood bubble up. And not just the good memories, but also the memories that sting, the memories you thought were gone.

And really, as you are reading the book, she flits ar
Jul 01, 2007 Brendan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: William H. Gass & Eric Clapton
William H. Gass, that curmudgeonly king of American letters, proclaims with enormous exasperation that that “the perils of the present tense are pronounced.” In his 1996 essay, “A Failing Grade for the Present Tense,” he shakes his finger like a schoolmarm and scolds, “What was once a rather rare disease has become an epidemic.” And sounding like our elders in Washington, who wonder where in the world the outrage went, he woefully concludes that “if there is an academic prose, this prose is coll ...more
Aug 21, 2008 Megan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Megan by: Sarah Lawrence College
This book taught me a lot about reading and writing: that is, what I want to read and what I don't want to read; what I should write, and what Jo Anne Beard shouldn't. The ambiguous, vague touchy-feely pieces on her family were Important Because They Happened to Her. In a very, very negative way. The piece "Coyote" particularly stands out as one that I absolutely had to skim over. It must have been laborious as hell to write, because it was laborious as hell to read. I'm not a courtesan. I don't ...more
This dark and luminous collection of personal essays is worth reading if only for the essay entitled "The Fourth State of Matter", first published in The New Yorker in 1996. The heartbreaking essay is probably one of the best that I have ever read, both for its deep humanity and the elegance of its stylistic structure. I won't even tell you what it's about for fear of ruining any part of it.

Jo Ann Beard is a ridiculously gifted writer and her recollections of youth (she is especially remarkable
One of my all-time favorites. Jo Ann Beard writes like a friend -- does that make any sense? Or maybe it's her writing style that just makes me *wish* we were friends. I first read this book for a memoir writing workshop, and I immediately realized that this is exactly how I wish all my own writing could turn out. Her collection of essays is just spot on -- in tone and character and so much wonderful detail. A particular stand-out for me is the story 'The Fourth State of Matter,' which -- withou ...more
Simon A. Smith
This is a very strongly written memoir. Beard does several things that writers are NOT supposed to do. She's a rule breaker, this one. It's mostly written in present tense (big no), it's really "workshoppy" (uh-oh) and it leans toward melodrama about illness and dogs (run for the hills!) But fuck that noise. This is an honest, heartfelt, humorous look at what it's like to be neurotic woman writer with a whimsical voice and an astute ear for dialogue. Not hooked? There's mass murder, too. Put tha ...more
Apr 23, 2013 JSou rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to JSou by: Mike "PHT" Reynolds
These seriously are some of the best essays I've ever read in my life. I can't even say how much I loved this book, and now Jo Ann Beard. What a fantastic writer. Every single essay in this collection made me laugh AND cry.

Thank you, Mike Reynolds for such a wonderful gift. (I finally read it! )
I liked these a lot and would recommend them. Some of the essays here are just so nice to read. (Skip Coyote though; as one wonderful gr reviewer put it, “It must have been laborious as hell to write, because it was laborious as hell to read. I'm not a courtesan. I don't have time.”) While the overly-dramatized, overly-neat memoir style seems slightly dated, it is really satisfying for an essay to have a cohesive narrative and Jo Ann does it well. (The post-modern “I think this happened but I ca ...more
Donna Everhart
I was mesmerized by the writing style of Jo Ann Beard. She did a magnificent job capturing her youth, really her life in general, from the time when she was about three up through adult years. I laughed out loud as some of her descriptions of her relationship with her mother, her aunts, friends, siblings.

She wrote often saying, "We" this, or "they" that. She might be referencing herself for "we" or maybe her and her doll, Hal, or someone else, but it was so uniquely done. Her voice in these sto
Angela Blount

On the whole, his was a pretty erratic read. The author jumps around from memory to memory in her small-town Midwestern life without anything this reader could call a logical cohesion or progression. Half of the time, these short stories almost feel more like tangential modern poetry than memoir essays. The most gripping and memorable of these was, hands down, her memory of a horrific act of workplace violence that the author narrowly avoided.

While seeming somewhat unlikely, the author's recoll
I read just read this for my Creative Writing class in college and fell in love! Reading Jo Ann Beard's memoir was like spreading butter. Sounds weird I know, but the writing quality and word choice just flows so smoothly and naturally. She goes into such great detail creating this images of the simplest things. Her word choice makes you think, "Wow those words are exactly how I would describe that if I could think of the perfect way to say it." There are so many lines in the book that I just ch ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Just finished my annual reread of this, one of maybe ten books I'd rather die than be forced to live without. I stand by what I've said for a long time: there may be writers who write better books, better essays, better stories, better poems, but NOBODY writes better sentences than Jo Ann Beard. [And, for my, .02, no one writes better essays than Jo Ann Beard, either. Not even close.]

Every single essay here feels like a lifetime achievement, a life's work. To single out any one is silly. JAB is
This book of essays is one of my favorite all-time reads. Beard has a particularly Midwestern voice, in my opinion (I grew up in Illinois) and that identification really struck me. Some of the pieces continue to haunt me years later. Very occasionally I've seen something of hers in The New Yorker - but I've been waiting and hoping for another book for a long time.

I highly recommend this. In fact, I think I just talked myself into rereading it.
Heather Hasselle
The way life is written about in these essays is proof that a life lived as closely observed and deeply felt as Jo Ann Beard's is worth reading about, and worth writing. Especially in the language Beard uses, which is like sitting beside someone as they flip through pictures of a family photo album, narrating in the most beautiful and real way. I want to live (and feel as though I did) in some of these images:

"I've thrown my lot in with the guy in the driver's seat, and he with me. We're both c
I had never heard of Jo Ann Beard or her critically acclaimed memoir The Boys of My Youth or her most famous essay, "The Fourth State of Matter" (on the 1991 University of Iowa shootings), until March 2015. I picked it up because I was in the mood to binge-read as many memoirs as possible. I found a list through a Google search and went down the list: Angela's Ashes. Check. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Check. Maus. Check. Fun Home. Check. The Glass Castle. Mark to read later.

And then Th
Jo Ann Beard
Interviewed by Michael Gardner

JoAnn Beard is a graduate of the Nonfiction Program at the University of Iowa. JoAnn Beard served as a visiting writer to the MFA program at Saint Mary's College of California in the fall of 2003.
MG: This is the first year that the nonfiction genre exists in the MFA Program at Saint Mary's College and will also be the first year in which works of nonfiction will be included in Mary Magazine. In developing my ideas about the genre of nonfiction, I couldn
I was already blown away by the quality of this collection when, near the end, I discovered that the writer grew up in Moline, IL (just a hop and skip from where I live). What the WHAT?

A few months ago, I read (and enjoyed) an essay, "Behind the Screen," (about a little girl and her family on the Fourth of July), on a blog about a genre called flash memoir. A week or two later, I picked up The Boys of My Youth at a local bookstore mainly because I liked the title and because the copy was on sal
This feels like a cohesive memoir even though the chapters are self-contained essays. I really enjoyed this collection even though some of the topics of the essays are more common like first loves, childhood crushes, and a mother's death. Almost all of the pieces are grounded in present tense even though Beard jumps around in time. This ability is particularly impressive in the title story, "The Boys of My Youth." Her most interesting essays to me were the one about the shooting at Physics Depar ...more
'The Boys of My Youth' is a memoir written through a collection of essays. The narrative is not linear and I enjoyed the shifting timeline and her overall writing style. The strongest chapters were Fourth Side of the Matter (recalling a horrific workplace incident) and a chapter written about her being followed in her car in the south (frightening). Without question, these sections were 5/5 stars. For the most part, I enjoyed the sections written about her childhood but her adult sections (exclu ...more
Cindy C
Oct 04, 2014 Cindy C is currently reading it
Blown away by her essay: and looking forward to reading this entire book.

There are very few writers who grab you within the span of a couple of pages and never let go. She is one of those.
Our local writers group hosts events every once in a while, and the latest event was "Bookstruck"—bring a book you had read a while back and reminisce about how it still affects you. One of the writers touted this 1998 acclaimed story-style memoir, reading some passages from it which made me curious enough to get it out from the library. Really loved Jo Ann Beard's voice and writing style. The stories of being a girl growing up in the midwest resonated with me, although Beard had quite different ...more
Joan Colby
. Beard is funny, moving and often poetic in these essay-memoirs. “Coyotes” is pure poetry in parts…”In the dark that, on my smooth ocean, inside my mind, he is already gray and golden like the desert, like the moon moving among them in the clearing…” “Cousins” will resonate with any girl who had a bosom friend for the wild and carefree times. I remember reading “The Fourth Side of Matter” years ago in the New Yorker, one of the most powerful and unforgettable stories I’ve encountered. Beard’s v ...more
Mike Barnett
My new new favorite author: I don't even know what to say about her. Her writing is incredible. Really, if you read just one new book this year, make it one of hers.
The best collection of non fiction short stories I've ever read. Okay the only collection I've ever read, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it won't be beaten.
Barbara M
A friend of mine who is a writer gave gave this book to me as a gift. She told me that she loved it and hoped I would enjoy it too. I absolutely loved this book! I took it with me to the beach today and I couldn't put it down until I finished it! It added to my enjoyment of a glorious beach day! I love sitting on the beach reading a great book.

The book is a collection of stories - a memoir of the author's childhood and young adult memories. It focuses on the "boys" of her youth who shaped her li
Luanne Castle
In five or six writing courses I've taken, the instructors assigned “The Fourth State of Matter,” an essay from JoAnn Beard’s memoir The Boys of My Youth. I had to read it over and over. But there’s a reason why so many instructors assign it. Wow, what a piece of creative nonfiction! What occurs in the story is what happens when Beard was in the right place at the wrong time.

I’m not trying to be cryptic or coy. It’s best to let the stunning essay at the heart of the book speak for itself and tak
For a book that I approached with the intention on learning how to write a little bit better (mostly on the description of emotion) I was pleasantly surprised. Jo Ann Beard makes poignant, oftentimes in one sentence, indications of the people she has met in her life. She even goes so far as to, in the last chapter, intone about the book and the people to whom she must speak to about the book.

What lies within the cover is a collection of short stories, jumping back and forth between Beard's adult
Oh why, oh why did I leave this book in my To-Read pile for so long? Jo Ann Beard's book of intertwined essays explore coming-of-age moments (such as those first crushes on boys) to stories of survival (such as walking right by a student who will open fire and kill some of her college colleagues). A wonderful read! I really want more books like this!
Although this series of creative non-fiction essays were written prior to In Zanesville, I am glad I read this after that book. It further clarified what was already brilliant. I loved this. I could barely put it down to go to sleep. I just hope Ms. Beard already has another up her sleeve. I just can't get enough of her writing. I could relate to it all--from the Barbies and the Barbie cases, to the loss of love and death of a parent to cancer. Beard is an honest, unpretentious writer, and hones ...more
Jen Knox
Awesome collection of essays. Love the humor and grit and up-close scenes that, as will all good nonfiction, make me feel as though I'm in good company. I can't believe it took me so long to find this book. I need to find more like it... I'm facing a shortage of good essay collections.
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Jo Ann Beard is the author of a collection of autobiographical essays, The Boys of My Youth. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Best American Essays, and other magazines and anthologies. She received a Whiting Foundation Award and nonfiction fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
More about Jo Ann Beard...
In Zanesville The Fourth State of Matter Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present

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“We sit silently in our living room. He watches the mute television screen and I watch him. The planes and ridges of his face are more familiar to me than my own. I understand that he wishes even more than I do that he still loved me.” 13 likes
“As she lies in the bed she weeps, for Bing, for the melting, shimmering candles, the filigree on the holiday tablecloth. She is an unwilling astronaut, bumping against the thick glass of the ship, her line tangling lazily in zero gravity, face mask fogged with fear. My sister reaches across, over the bed, and we both embrace the mother, holding her on earth, pulling her onto the ship, breathing our oxygen into her line. Ten hours later she is dead.” 0 likes
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